If you own or work for a nonprofit, you know the importance of fundraising. Charities will rely heavily on donations and gifts to pay for all the organization's expenses and operating costs.
Typically, there are three types of auctions that charities will host, these include:
- Live auctions
- Silent auctions
- Online auctions
When you get it right, finding new prospects and strengthening the ones you have by hosting an auction can be highly rewarding. In addition, it will be an excellent way to encourage new sponsors to join your cause, generate interest from the attendees, and have fun!
If you want your silent auction to be wildly successful, you should have the best set of items so your guests can have a great time and open their wallets.
Difference Between a Silent Auction and Live Event
During a silent auction, there will be various tables and displays of items that attendees can place bids on written pledges. The bids can be seen for someone else to review to see the highest bid and determine if they want to exceed it to increase their chances of winning. Silent auctions are like going to a retail store, choosing which items are the most appealing, and making written bids on your favorite items. Once the time has run out to make bids, the organizers will name the winners, collect payment and deliver the items.
Live auctions consist of attendees bidding over items in real-time, where the highest online bidder will win the item. Auctioneers facilitate the live auction with a fabulous stage presence and presentations to sell the items at high bids. This high-energy environment is an excellent way to secure and foster long-term relationships with attendees.
How Silent Auctions Differ from Live Events
How do they differ? Silent auctions consist of secret bids by attendees, and during a live event, participants make their bids in front of everyone. Live events are virtual, and the whole affair is online, while silent auctions involve live and online participants.
An auctioneer manages the event and presents the items for bid during a live event. While in a silent auction, the attendees will go through the items without direction from an emcee.
Silent Auction Item Ideas
So, what should be up for bid at a silent auction? Silent auctions hold many opportunities to gain long-term supporters, and it is your job to create a fun and exciting event that they will remember. Let's discover the best silent auction ideas to engage your donors!
1. Gift Certificates
Many companies will donate gift cards to nonprofits. For example, Chipotle and Benihana will donate qualifying nonprofits gift cards for their silent auctions. Companies such as John's Crazy Socks and Birchbox are just some of the places heavily involved in nonprofits and might be willing to collaborate with you.
Before hitting the pavement and finding companies willing to donate gift cards, you will have to consider the silent auction type you're hosting. If it is more high-end attendees, gift cards to fast-food restaurants might not suit their taste, opting for upscale eateries and brands.
2. Dinner With the Mayor
Here is a unique idea that will wow your guests! Email or call your mayor's office and ask if they would be interested in offering up their time for charity. Dinner with the Mayor can be pretty appealing for attendees, and it's an excellent opportunity for them to network.
You'll be surprised that some Mayors are heavily involved with their communities and will gift their time to raise money for your cause.
3. Gift Baskets
Gift baskets are a must for silent auctions. You don't just have to have one on display, and there are various types to appeal to all. For example:
- Travelers gift basket: What's a business trip without all the essentials. A traveler's gift basket can consist of a travel pillow, Bose headphones, wet wipes, magazines, snacks, and a suit bag.
- Fitness baskets: A fitness basket are great for silent auctions and can include a yoga mat, dumbbells, a water bottle, and a gym membership.
- Gourmet wine and picnic basket: Everyone likes a date night! The picnic basket can include good wine, cheeses, crackers, and everything a couple would need for a lovely picnic.
- At-home spa basket: A basket to pamper yourself or a loved one is just what we all need. Include items such as face masks, slippers, bathrobes, lotions, and essential oils, to name a few.
- Cooking enthusiast basket: Everyone loves a good meal, so add items like flavored oils, spices, cookbooks, cooking utensils, and souces. Foodies will love it!
Check with local small businesses to donate some items for the gift baskets. It is for a good cause, but they also get free publicity for their brand. Also, what holiday is coming up soon? Cater your gift baskets to a holiday, such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas, etc. This will surely make the gift baskets a hot item during the auction.
4. Spa Day
Get your silent auction attendees interested in a spa day! Life gets stressful and the thought of an afternoon of pampering will sound appealing to many. Offer a gift card for a pedicure, massage, and facial. Contact spas in your area and find out if they are willing to donate a full day of services or provide a discount. Raising brand awareness while helping a nonprofit is an excellent promotion for any business.
5. Cooking Lessons from a Local Chef
Getting a cooking lesson from a local chef is a beautiful experience that singles or couples will love! This idea will generate interest because who doesn't love spending time with a local celebrity while learning a new dish. The cooking lesson can be given online or in person, so out-of-town attendees can also bid on the item.
If there is no local chef available, you can use websites such as Goldbelly, where you can hire chefs for live cooking classes who are skilled in different cooking styles. For example, you can choose professional chefs who are ultimate pizza makers, vegan chefs, or those who specialize in Asian cuisine. Your options are endless!
6. Tasting Menu at a Top Restaurant
Let bidders feel like VIP guests and offer a five-course tasting menu at a fine dining restaurant. Not only will this be a dream date for a couple, but winners of this item can try the best of the best at a fancy restaurant.
Partnering with top restaurants is also great exposure for your nonprofit. It may create networking opportunities to meet their clientele and connect with the restaurant owner to use it as a location for future events.
7. Limo Ride
Let's face it; a limo ride is always fun, and who doesn't want to make a big entrance. The winner of a limo ride bid can use the limo ride for a future event, a night out with loved ones, or simply ride around the city looking at the lights.
A limo ride can be a big-ticket item at silent auctions because those bidding on it know that it can make their next outing extraordinary. This make for a fun silent auction idea.
8. Private Club Membership
Being a private club member offers them exclusivity and potential networking opportunities. For example, a year's membership to a golf club or country club is very appealing to attendees because they can rub shoulders with business owners and other successful people in town.
Having a membership to a private club will save the individual money on activities, such as golfing, while enjoying state-of-the-art amenities. In addition, there are fitness amenities, swimming pools, and restaurants that the whole family can appreciate.
9. Backstage Passes
Get backstage passes to a local event or concert in your area to add to the items on the silent auction list. Backstage passes are a hot ticket at auctions because people want to see what happens behind the scenes and get a front-row seat to a live event or meet a musician.
Meeting celebrities or learning about arena secrets is a thrilling experience, and attendees will pay good money at a silent auction for backstage passes.
10. Private Photoshoots
Research your attendees. For example, do they have families or special events, such as a baby shower or anniversary? Approach local photographers and ask if they want to donate a shoot for a good cause. Even if the donors don't have a special event in the works, family photoshoots are fun any time of the year.
Many people will pay good money to have their family photos done by a professional, and the photographer will appreciate the exposure with your collaboration.
11. Tickets to Sporting Events
Who doesn't love a local sporting event? No matter where you live in the world, sports is a family affair, and many sporting organizations are happy to donate tickets to nonprofits for their auctions. Should you run out of luck getting donations, there may be people in your network or donor list that has season tickets they are willing to share. Often, sporting event tickets will sell more than they are worth because tickets run out.
You may even decide to pair two items together, such as the limo ride and the sporting event tickets. A bundle can get higher bids because the perceived value is higher.
Everyone loves a getaway. The hustle and bustle of everyday life can be stressful, and a vacation can get you feeling refreshed. Since you are hosting a virtual fundraising event, your attendees are likely located in different parts of the country. This means the destination won't matter much. People want to travel out of their immediate environment, and an item on auction like this will generate a lot of buzz and attention.
If you can, add transportation to the vacation to make it an all-inclusive package. That way, you can maximize the bid and increase interest. Who could resist this silent auction idea!
Memorabilia will forever be popular. People collect things because it helps them relive their childhoods, connect with history, or the thrill of the hunt. Several memorabilia items will grab your attendees' attention at your auction:
- Old books
- Postage stamps
- Sports memorabilia
- Historic artifacts
- Vintage clothing
If people donate a lot of one genre of goods, you can always host another event for a specialized audience later. Collectibles are sought-after items, and a niche auction can be a successful event for your nonprofit.
14. Wine or Brewery Tours
Who are your donors? Consider your target audience and whether they are a beer or wine individuals. Most cities or towns have local breweries that offer tasting flights and tours of their breweries. Craft beer has grown exponentially due to its popularity, and as of 2021, there are 9,247 breweries across the country. In addition, there are more than 11,000 wineries.
Often, people value experiences over goods. Wine and brewery tours are an excellent group adult activity where people can explore new areas of their city and broaden their tastes with their favorite beverages. You may even gift the tickets with a charcuterie board for their venture!
15. Music Lessons
Haven't we all wanted to learn an instrument or two? Music is popular among all demographics, and it's never too late to start. Offering music lessons as an item at your silent auction may be a big ticket because those that have been wanting to take lessons but never got around to it might jump at the opportunity.
You can create a combo item and auction an instrument with the lessons to up the ante. For example, offer a guitar with ten guitar lessons.
16. Signed memorabilia
Signed memorabilia is a big hit! It can be anything, from autographed sports memorabilia to comic book illustration signatures. These items are typically easy to get. You can contact your local sports teams and find out if they are interested in participating in the event by donating signed jerseys, balls, or headshots. Comic book illustrators will let you mail in the comic book, sign it, and return it for a small fee.
Offering catering as a gift is an excellent item for an auction. People may have a wedding, a holiday event, or simply want to entertain guests, and a catered meal is just what they are looking for. Contact catering companies in your area or research where your online bidders live and secure a donation. The best way to ensure a donation is to set terms and conditions. For instance, they may offer their services if it is a small intimate gathering instead of a huge wedding. Other conditions can include the time of year the event should get hosted and the length.
18. An Outdoor Adventure
Outdoor adventures are fun for the whole family! Unfortunately, life gets busy, and we spend our days running around after the kids or endless hours at work. So why not spark their imagination and encourage outdoor excitement with some adventure.
Let's discover some great outdoor adventures to offer as an auction item:
- A tour through a national park
- Horseback riding excursions
- Camping or glamping experience
- Fishing trip
- Surfing lessons
- Zoo tickets
- Guided ATV tour
19. Skydiving Excursion
Skydiving has substantial financial potential! So many people have skydiving on their bucket list, which could be their opportunity to do what they've always wanted. Contact your local skydiving companies and see who is looking to partner with your nonprofit. Offer them free publicity for a free jump.
If you have daredevil attendees, maybe offer a group package! It will be a great opportunity to network with like-minded people and make new friends while making money for your charity.
20. Car Wash
Who doesn't love the new car smell? Offer a year's worth of car washes as an auction item. This can be a hot ticket because everyone enjoys a clean car. Generate hype on your car wash item by offering detailing as well. You can give daily or monthly washes or opt for unlimited yearly car washes with a bi-annual detailing service which often costs hundreds of dollars.
21. Fitness Package
Fitness packages can include a gym membership. Go a step further and couple it with the fitness basket, including dumbbells, a yoga mat, protein bars, workout videos, and more! Add a gift card to a sporting goods store so they can buy sporting clothes or gym equipment.
Another item you can do alone or add to the package is online workout classes, so it will appeal to them no matter where your attendees live.
22. Date Night
Here is an auction item that your attendees may love! It can appeal to singles or couples because a date night package can get used by two friends too. Have a fun night planned where the winning bidders can have local cuisine at their favorite restaurant, followed by karaoke. Group this item with cooking classes to have a fun-filled day. Comedy night is a popular event for date night and will bring in high bids.
Other date night ideas include:
- Pottery classes for two
- Go-kart racing
- Tickets to an amusement park
- Axe throwing
- Mini golf
- Spa day
23. Hobby Kits
Many people have hobbies and fill up their free time by doing something they love. It could be crocheting, scrapbooking, jewelry making, woodworking, and painting. You can make various types of hobby kits or do some research on the attendees.
Get a poker set with dice, betting chips, and playing cards if they like poker. You could even add a buy-in to a virtual poker tournament. There are many options to add to your silent auction, and some will sell for good money.
24. Childcare and Pet Sitting
At some point, parents rely on childcare when working, running errands, or going on dates. Not only is childcare expensive, but you will need a reliable company to offer quality services. Attendees will find a childcare package highly appealing because they can get nanny services at a discounted rate.
Let's not forget pet care! Remember each time you wanted to go away for the weekend and either changed plans or struggled to find someone to care for your furbabies? Pet sitting is becoming a trend as pet owners rely on their trusted pet sitters to manage their four-legged friends while away. When looking for a local pet sitting company, ensure they are insured and licensed before offering it as an item for auction.
25. Boat Cruise
What is better than a cruise? There are unlimited food and unique cuisine choices that you can switch up with every meal, and the entire experience is jam-packed with adventure. Show attendees that going on a cruise to a remote destination will create lasting memories for them and their loved ones. In addition, cruises have onboard casinos, mini-golf, swimming pools, climbing walls, and child care so that the adults can play too! Who could resist this silent auction idea!
26. Streaming Services
Streaming services have blown up in recent years, but they can break the bank when you have too many. Offer year subscriptions to attendees who love to binge-watch their favorite TV shows and save themselves money on streaming service costs.
Streaming services to offer as an auction item include:
- HBO Max
27. Staycation Supplies
Don't we all love a night in! Instead of a spa day, create a package with staycation supplies. Auction attendees can enjoy a collection of their favorite rom-coms or action films with a DVD collection, a cozy robe, fuzzy slippers, crossword puzzles, popcorn, and chocolates.
Again, you can bundle staycation supplies with date night or hobby kits to keep the item's winner busy all weekend long for their staycation!
28. Air Fryer and Recipe Book
Not everyone likes to spend hours in the kitchen to get a good meal. As a unique auction item, have an air fryer, crockpot, and recipe book so the person can make quick and delicious meals from home. Air fryers let you crisp food, heat leftovers, and cook frozen food quickly. It is also a healthy option for those who enjoy fried food without the extra calories from grease.
Go one step further and combine the air fryer and recipe book with a cooking gift basket to maximize the bid!
Here is one for those who rarely have free time on their hands to get their landscape in tip-top shape. Landscaping companies may donate their cleanup and maintenance services to your nonprofit. So many people don't have time each weekend to get the lawn mowed, weeds pulled, and shrubs trimmed. It will take a significant burden off the winner's hands, and your auction may even end up in a bidding war with such a popular item.
30. Free Dry Cleaning & Chores
Everyone has something they want dry cleaned, whether suites or living room drapes. This provides you with the perfect opportunity to approach your local dry cleaner to donate their services to one lucky winner for a few months or longer.
Ensure you get all the details confirmed, such as how many garments the winning bidder can have laundered per visit and the number of drop-offs allowed.
Additionally, you can get a few volunteers and coworkers to form a chore team, whose time can be auctioned for chore services during a set period. If your newly formed chore team is willing to donate more time, you can have more than one session available for auction.
31. Book Reading
Many book lovers and collectors would love a private book reading by a well-known author. While book readings typically take place at a bookstore, an avid book reader or collector would jump at the opportunity to enjoy an intimate book reading at their home. This type of item at an auction can generate one of the highest bids!
Another way to include a book reading if an author can't make it to the winner's home is to have a virtual book reading. This is especially popular for children's book authors, who host a virtual storytime reading one of their famous books.
Go one step further and ask the author to record a storytime session to gift to the highest bidder, so they have an exclusive personalized version only for them.
Artwork is popular and usually always an item at any type of auction. You don't need a famous or established artist to donate some of their artwork for your online silent auction.
Instead, research a few artists in your surrounding area who are still trying to make a name for themselves to donate a few of their pieces. This is the perfect opportunity for local aspiring artists to get noticed while donating to a good cause.
33. Celebrity Meetups
Everyone has a celebrity they would love to meet. Whether a book author, local celebrity chef, news anchor, or even an award-winning actor, we all have that one famous person who gets us excited! You may even feel your heart skip a beat at the thought of meeting your childhood crush!
Hollywood stars may be difficult to reach for an auction, so if you don't know anyone whose cousin is a famous celeb, consider local celebrities who are ready and able to auction their time to a fundraising event.
Besides celebrity meetups, you can also ask the celebrity to autograph a few photographs or memorabilia that can be auctioned off separately to capitalize on the opportunity.
34. Reserved Seating for a Special Event
Reserved seating is helpful for special occasions where a good seat is required. Suppose you're raising money for a school, for example. In that case, front row seats for graduation are always in demand since families want to be as close as possible for that momentous occasion and take advantage of the best photo opportunities.
For suggestions, take advantage of holiday festivities hosted by other organizations, such as:
- Annual parades
- Christmas Lighting of the Tree
- Fourth of July fireworks
- State or local fair beauty pageants
Consider where the event will occur and speak with surrounding businesses to secure these seats. Are there any available rooftops? Views of storefronts? Someone's front yard with enough space for seats or parking? Look around and see if anyone or any group is prepared to donate open space for your nonprofit.
35. Guided Day Tours
Everyone loves a guided tour led by an expert and where big crowds are avoided. Reach out to local experts who can provide insight and experience on a topic that is relevant to your area. You can then give a personalized, guided day out to an individual or group.
Suggestions for guided day tours include:
- Hiking in Los Angeles
- Attending jazz clubs in New York City
- Walking the Freedom Trail in Boston
- Touring Chicago's architecture
To make this prize more appealing, ask a few local restaurants if they would like to include a free lunch/dinner/drinks to the auction winner and guide.
Bidders will be able to enjoy a free meal and refreshments, keeping them refreshed for their day or night out. Experts are also more likely to give their time if there is a free meal or drinks!
36. Meal Kit Delivery Service
Sometimes after a long day at the office, you don't want to get home and still prep and make dinner for your family. This is where meal kit delivery services come to the rescue.
Meal kit delivery services are something not everyone would sign up for themselves. If you want to garner attention at your next auction, consider a year-long subscription to a meal kit delivery service as an auction item.
Meal kit companies offer a wide range of dishes, and most come with printed recipes that give preparation and cooking instructions. This makes it ideal for silent online auctions as these companies accommodate both experienced and inexperienced home cooks.
The following meal kit providers are suggestions of who you can ask for a donation:
- Hello Fresh
- Home Chef
- Blue Apron
- Green Chef
- Home Chef Fresh and Easy
37. Oil Changes
Most car manufacturers provide free scheduled maintenance for a few years after you purchase a new vehicle from one of their dealerships. However, these free service plans eventually expire, and you will have to pay out-of-pocket for your car's services.
Oil changes are required several times a year, often every 3,000 miles or three months, whichever comes first. Because of this, participants at a silent auction will be drawn to free oil change coupons.
Ask the service station with whom you've partnered to supply enough coupons to last a year, which should approximate four or so coupons.
Arrange with a local oil change shop or mechanic, and give them sponsor exposure at your event. By working with a well-known charity, a local repair shop can improve its image and reputation in the community.
38. Reserved Parking Spot
Nobody loves looking for a parking spot, especially when they're in a hurry. A reserved parking spot saves people the difficulty of locating parking, whether parking the farthest from the office, driving the school carpool every day, or being late to an important lunch meeting.
Because each person's definition of a "good" parking space is different, it's crucial to work together to select a parking spot that many people will like.
Add this reward to a monthly or annual silent auction for a specific event, and watch how everyone places a bid!
39. Ceremonial Pitch or Coin Toss
You're not alone if you've fantasized about tossing the coin before a major football game or throwing the ceremonial first pitch before a baseball game.
See if you can include a coin toss or ceremonial pitch experience in your auction by contacting a semi-professional or professional team. If the group agrees, request whether they will promote the opportunity in their advertising or over the loudspeaker during the team's next game so that fans are aware that they must attend your silent auction to bid on the prize.
40. Hot Air Balloon Ride
Hot air balloon rides are on many people's bucket lists and are the perfect experience to raffle at your next silent auction. Hot air balloon rides market to various people, from loved-up couples to adventurers, girlfriends enjoying a weekend getaway, and even the average Joe.
However, not everyone wants to pay the costs on their own. If you offer a free ride at an auction, participants will be happy to pay for the extravagance.
Approach a local tour agency to discuss donating a free ride. If they decline your original request, inquire if it will donate a free ride on a consignment basis. That means a bidder must reach a reserve, with the reserve going to the tour operator to cover costs before the excess is distributed to your charity.
41. Decorating and Takedown
Have you always wondered why some homes are perfectly decorated each holiday season? Well, they might have hired professionals! Companies, such as roofers, are known to offer holiday decorating and takedown when the season is over. Who wouldn't love a lit-up home over Halloween and Christmas will minimal effort from you!
Ensure you have secured a reasonable agreement with the company on the times they have available and the average size house and property they are willing to work on before having it on auction.
42. Hunting Trips
Hunting trips make great silent auction ideas. There are over 15,200,000 hunters in the United States, and many of them have a great hunting trip on their bucket list. Charity Safaris offers hunting trips to South Africa, New Zealand, and Argentina for charity silent auctions. These trips average $1500 to $3200 profit for the charity. The trips mentioned above are available as a 100% donation to the charity, keeping 100% of the profit.
Silent auctions are successful additions to your charity's fundraising event. This is an excellent opportunity for your nonprofit to generate funding, expand its donor base, and spread the word about its mission. In addition, you can collect thousands of dollars by including attractive items, events, and experiences in many areas of interest.